Sweeping beauty

Toronto's dance darling on film, fashion and why Hollywood needs to make another ballet movie

Secret weapons come in all shapes and sizes, but rarely in the form of an unassuming, 25-year-old ballerina from Toronto. Yet when the National Ballet of Canada rolls out its 2006 season in its much-anticipated, newly minted, $150 million Four Seasons Center, all eyes will surely be on the company’s most recent star appointment, Heather Ogden.

Since she became a principal dancer in 2005, the 5’7″ ballerina with porcelain skin and seemingly endless legs has generated considerable buzz around Toronto, not only for her luminous beauty but her stellar performances. After her debut in “Romeo and Juliet” in 2001, she earned the National Ballet’s Patron Award of Merit. And critics and fans alike have since been in awe of her ability to tackle more complex choreographies by the likes of George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton.

“She really goes for it,” says dance critic Michael Crabb. “When she steps out onstage, she possesses that stage completely. I’m certain that if she toured through Europe, critics would stand up and take notice.”

Europe is on Ogden’s radar. Despite her easygoing demeanor, lack of pretension and graceful frame, the ballerina is quietly determined. She’d like to dance onstage with both the Royal and the New York City Ballets one day, but before that, she hopes to find an international agent to help her gain more exposure in Europe. “I really need to step outside my comfort zone and learn to sell myself,” she confesses.

Ogden’s not alone in that respect. Like Hollywood, the ballet business has seen a steady decline in audience attendance since the 1960s. That’s partly why the 55-year-old National Ballet of Canada, which operates on an $23 million annual budget, shares its new home with the Canadian Opera Company.

And that’s partly why the company’s new artistic director, Karen Kain, has put together a series of sure-fire crowdpleasers, including this season’s highly anticipated opener, “Sleeping Beauty,” with Ogden as Princess Aurora (Nov. 9).

“Every company has to do the big five story ballets, which are guaranteed to bring in a crowd,” says Ogden, who also believes that lower ticket prices will attract younger viewers. “But that’s OK with me. I love the classics. They’re great ballets, and they appeal to every age.”

Appearing in approximately 10 ballets this season — including “The Nutcracker,” Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” “Don Quixote” and “Taming of the Shrew” — won’t leave Ogden much time for indulgences, least of all fashion. Her personal style is, by necessity, “pretty minimalist” she says, as she spends most of her off hours in training.

Local Toronto stores Lulu Lemon and Riske are her standbys, but her all-time favorite way to shop? On tour. “I have a bag that I got in Spain that I love. I like big earrings, belts, purses. I sort of have a collection, but they’re not expensive designer purses. (They’re) special to me because I got them while I was traveling.”

Perhaps in the near future, Ogden’s adventures will bring her to L.A. She hasn’t been asked to act in a movie yet, but she’d love to see Hollywood do a contemporary ballet movie — especially one that realistically portrays the life of a dancer.

“That would be great! Everyone knows that dancers work very hard, but I’m not sure if the sacrifices or the dedication is apparent.”

“Ballets Russes” remains one of Ogden’s favorite dance pictures, and she feels it’s about time for another. “We could definitely use a new movie about ballet,” she says. “There’s a little bit of hype around dance again with all the reality TV shows.” And then she adds, with an uncharacteristic tease, “And they should make it about me!”

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